Audio equipment, and the sound bar in particular, is a little bit like local government. Everyone sees the "little people" -- the street sweepers, the meter readers and so on --and everyone knows the "mayor", but from the outside looking in it's hard to know about the ones in the middle. Until now there haven't been any significant soundbars between $400 and $1200 that we highly recommended.
One problem is that most soundbars, regardless of price, sacrifice sound quality in favor of form factor, so in many cases it doesn't make sense paying over, say, $400. But there are a couple of models that manage to solve the "can't block the TV screen or IR sensor" problem without sacrificing much performance. The Sony NT-H5 is one of these.
With a raft-load of features, reasonable future-proofing and excellent sound quality to boot, Sony offers an excellent upmarket soundbar with a plenty of flexibility. In short, the HT-NT5 is a keeper. The Sony HT-NT5 is available in the US for $799, Australia for $999 and the UK for £599.
Design and Features
The Sony manages to counter the low height requirements for a sound bar -- they typically need to fit under a TV--by angling the drivers back. In this way the unit is able to incorporate a pair of two three-eighths inch drivers and two sets of silk dome tweeters. Why two sets I hear you say? The unit can be placed horizontally or vertically on a wall and it is configured in such a way so it always has one set facing towards the listening position. The bar is 42.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches when lying flat on your AV unit (about 108cm by 6.4cm).
The unit comes supplied with a wireless subwoofer which includes a front ported design and a 6.5-inch driver. It's moderately large at 7.5 inches wide by roughly 15 inches both tall and deep (19.1cm by 38.1cm).
The onscreen display mimics the company's SongPal app, with a graphical representation of the inputs and a helpful "Wireless Rear" button at the top (of which we'll hear more later).
Sony was one of the first hardware manufacturers to support Google Cast, and the HT-NT5 continues the trend. This extra allows you to control music from Cast-compatible audio apps on your phone or other device, and have them play through the sound bar. Even cooler, now that Chromecast Audio and other companies' Google Cast products can support multiroom audio, the HT-NT5 can become part of a whole-home audio system, with simultaneous playback in multiple rooms from one app (a.k.a. "party mode"), for a price much lower than Sonos.
If you want to dabble in other all-you-can-eat streaming apps, Sony does provide its own proprietary SongPal Link multiroom system and Spotify Connect as well.
The unit comes with three HDMI ports (while many competitors don't even offer one), each equipped HDCP 2.2 and HDR support for 4K sources.
With a recent firmware update came the ability to add wireless rear-channel speakers, and while the app offers the same capability it doesn't currently work. For best results we followed the onscreen prompts. Sony supplied a pair of ZR7 as rears but this is probably overkill and you could save $200 by using the ZR5 instead.
It didn't take very long to hear that the Sony HT-NT5 was an exceptional sound system. There are no setup or calibration requirements, but you can adjust the subwoofer's volume directly from the remote.
Starting our listening tests streaming files from Tidal, the HT-NT5's poise and refinement was immediately obvious. That's never a given for sound bars because most are designed to excel with home theater, but the HT-NT5 cruised through rock, jazz and classical music.
We next played the opening track from Philip Glass' "Koyaanisqatsi" soundtrack album, that starts with ultra-deep bass organ passages, and a male chorus chanting "Koyaan-isqatsi" over and over again, and the HT-NT5 never faltered or distorted. This track is a revealing test for even full-size 5.1 channel systems. The sub never once lost its composure, and while Radiohead's "A Moon Shaped Pool" was a tad bright with the volume turned up, the HT-NT5 sounded fine at low to moderate volume levels. All in all this svelte bar proved itself to be an above average sounding performer for music.
Its home theater moxie came to the fore as we watched the action scenes in "American Sniper." The heavy-duty street warfare had tremendous impact, dynamics and power; the dialogue was clear; and the soundstage was wide and deep. It was at at this point that we switched over to the similarly-priced Definitive Technology W Studio Micro sound bar/wireless subwoofer system, and they were close. Both were very powerful as we switched back and forth, but the HT-NT5 projected a wider, more spacious soundstage, and dialogue was a little clearer.
We turned up the heat with Eminem's "Live in New York City" DVD and the HT-NT5's subwoofer fully energized the CNET listening room. The sound bar's upward firing drivers produced a big sound, but only up to a point. We heard some strain when we turned up the volume really loud, at more reasonable listening levels Eminem's music shined. The W Studio Micro's sub kicked harder, and played a bit louder without strain than the HT-NT5. At more moderate volume levels the W Studio Micro never matched the HT-NT5's clarity with Eminem's music.
Returning to streaming music we played the "Hamilton" Broadway album, and while those big Broadway voices sounded awfully nice with both bars, again the HT-NT5 sounded clearer overall.
While adding rears proved to be a painful process, once installed they instantly transformed the freeway chase scene from "Deadpool." The scene had real depth from front to back and greater immersion as a result. One thing to note is that music will also play in surround (with matrixing from the front channels) and so you need to disable the rears with the aforementioned onscreen icon to prevent this.
The Sony HT-NT5 really delivers the goods for a system in the upper midrange price category. Yes, we nitpicked various aspects of its sound, but when you add it all up the HT-NT5 is one of the better sound bars out there.